As a writer, I care passionately about words. As my church’s artist-in-residence, I share prayers and mediations with congregants, choosing words with painstaking care, knowing that what comes out of my mouth has the power to comfort and deepen or distract and harm. As a mother of three girls from elementary to high school, I am a vigilant moderator of words. Just yesterday, I took my eleven-year old aside for the umpeenth time, locked my eyes with hers, and said, “You may not say hate anymore.”
In this cynical time when public insult is only one tweet away, I found it encouraging when my husband came home from a conference and told me that the facilitator had closed with a blessing. The facilitator, who is from an Indian-Kenyan heritage where benedictions are an integral part of life, read a blessing that invited its listeners to move from self-protection to vulnerability and love for others.
In a country where our right to free speech is protected by law, I often feel as though words feel cheap, bandied about thoughtlessly. But what we say flows from who we are, and that makes each word pregnant with meaning. Words start wars, end relationships, rip through families. As I endlessly tell my children, we are responsible for every word, however thoughtless, that leaves our lips.
But what about words chosen intentionally with love? Why are we so often dismissive and cynical of gentleness? In our preference for biting satire and one-liners, have we created a desert devoid of genuine kindness? Have we as a culture forgotten how to bless one another?
“In the parched deserts of postmodernity a blessing can be like the discovery of a fresh well. It would be lovely if we could rediscover our power to bless one another. . .It is ironic that so often we continue to live like paupers though our inheritance of spirit is so vast,” Celtic mystic and priest John O’Donohue writes in his book, To Bless the Space Between Us.
I have found nothing more powerful than words carefully crafted in love and imagination. No matter what your spiritual background, this is a heritage we can all share, a common language of blessing. You don’t have to be a writer or a poet or a priest. Beginning to bless another person can be as simple as pausing in the midst of a hectic day to say to a friend or colleague, “You do good work;” “You are a delightful person, and may you find delight today;” “May you find courage in this hard situation.” These are profoundly powerful to hear. We are parched for authentic, attentive words.
So often I neglect to bless others because I am weary; I feel I deserve to receive and have nothing left to give. But in the act of blessing others, we create streams of grace that flow over the giver and the receiver: “The quiet eternal that dwells in our souls is silent and subtle; in the activity of blessing it emerges to embrace and nurture us,” John O’Donohue writes. “Whenever you give a blessing, a blessing returns to enfold you.”
This week, though I am at turns blinded by cynicism and wearied by life, I hope to open my eyes to see whom I can bless. Authentic, simple love: it is the center of who we are. Let us not forget that we are made to find beauty in others, to name it, and celebrate it.
So this week, may you be enfolded by transforming goodness, and may you have the courage to open your arms to others and to speak in wonder and love.
P.S. This week, I highly recommend:
—this interview between Krista Tippett and John O’Donohue (one of my all-time favorites on On Being).
—this reflection by Parker Palmer– “The Gift of Presence, the Perils of Advice” which includes this amazing quote from Mary Oliver: “This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”
—this lovely blogpost I serendipitously stumbled upon by farmer and family physician Emily Polis Gibson, which reminds me that blessing others is also (and should often be) a silent gift, a benediction of attentive listening. Check out the quotes to the right of the post–there’s a beautiful one by T.S. Eliot included.
P.S.S. We are profoundly thankful for all of you. As always, we are excited to expand our wonder by hearing your comments and recommended reading! Please share either in a comment on our blog or on Facebook, or contact us here.